MOSCOW — A parade of European ambassadors passed through Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday to receive formal protests and details about Moscow’s plans to expel more diplomats in a deepening crisis with the West.
The series of meetings — an astonishing display of European envoys arriving one after the other — marked the latest twist in tit-for-tat moves following the March 4 nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain.
In the past week, 27 nations joined Britain in ousting Russian diplomats believed to be working as intelligence officers. NATO and Georgia also announced expulsions later in the week. On Friday, Moscow answered in kind, ordering the expulsion of 59 diplomats from 23 countries.
The move came after Russia announced Thursday it would expel 60 U.S. diplomats and close the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg in response to the Trump administration’s decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats and shutter a consulate in Seattle.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Thursday that any action against Russia’s diplomatic corps would be “mirrored” by Moscow.
That played out Friday for the Europeans.
Two dozen senior European envoys were told to appear at the ministry in central Moscow to receive formal notes of protest and notices of expulsion orders.
The procession began in the early afternoon with the German, French and Italian ambassadors. They were greeted by scores of television cameras perched by the looming gray doors — still bearing the hammer and sickle insignia of the Soviet Union — that lead into the halls of the Stalinist skyscraper the Foreign Ministry calls home.
Rüdiger Freiherr von Fritsch, the German ambassador, stopped to engage briefly with journalists from the state news channel Rossiya 24.
“I used today’s opportunity to emphasize two things,” von Fritsch said. “The first is that it is still in Germany’s interests to have good relations with Russia.” And, he added, “We remain open to dialogue.”
British Ambassador Laurie Bristow, who has been summoned to the ministry several times this month, was also called in Friday but did not comment on what transpired during the latest meeting.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said later in a statement that Britain had been told it would be subject to special retaliatory measures: The size of the British diplomatic mission in Russia will be limited to the size of Russia’s mission in Britain. The numbers were not specified.
One by one, the diplomats’ cars pulled up to the Foreign Ministry’s driveway for meetings that lasted about a half-hour. The line of black sedans was broken only by the Swedish ambassador, traveling in a silver Volvo SUV.
Many of the expulsion orders applied to just one or two diplomats from each embassy, and few exceeded a handful of staffers.
The Foreign Ministry said it had taken measures against 23 countries that joined in the moves against Russia: Australia, Albania, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Croatia, Ukraine, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the Czech Republic.
It also said it reserves the right to take measures against four that were spared: Belgium, Hungary, Georgia and Montenegro.
State television channels such as Rossiya 24 were focused mainly on stories from Ukraine and around Russia during the day — specifically the aftermath of Sunday’s fire in the Siberian town of Kemerovo that killed 64 people, 41 of them children.
But after the stream of diplomats picked up, the channel opened a live window in the bottom right-hand corner of their coverage.
Scenes from the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg featured prominently, as well.
“So, they are leaving,” a state television reporter remarked. “They’re taking lunch now, 21 pizza boxes, they must be very hungry. We see lots of trucks coming and going all the time. Consulate employees are coming with empty boxes and leaving with full ones. Visitors to the consulate have been stopped at the entrance and informed that it has been closed.”